Taken by surprise

SVCT’s formula for fun: ‘Guys and Dolls’

ROLLICKING ENERGY See touching emotional moments in the story of 1940s New York City gamblers and their “dolls,” in SVCT’s summer show. Sarah Brown (Megan Griffin) and Sky Masterson (Joe Hartwell).

One of the classics of the Broadway stage, Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, is a can’t-lose gamble for theater producers and audiences alike.

South Valley Civic Theatre’s current production, which marks the end of the community theater’s 49th season, brings together a number of seasoned area actors for three hours of rollicking energy and touching emotional moments in the story of 1940s New York City gamblers and their “dolls.”

Typical musical theater character lists have four romantic leads: the “serious” pair and the comedic pair. Guys and Dolls plays a bit with this formula with lead gambler Nathan Detroit and his fiancee of 14 years, Miss Adelaide, providing plenty of comedy but also some true emotions, and the more serious pair, high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson and missionary Sarah Brown, who follow the more traditional path of a mismatched pair who fall in love against their better judgment.

The plot, based on Damon Runyon’s grittier stories of New York’s criminal underground, revolves around Detroit’s search for a cops-free site for his floating craps game. In order to cough up the $1,000 he needs to front the space, he bets Masterson that Masterson won’t be able to convince the prim and proper Sarah to accompany him on a date to Havana. But when Masterson promises Sarah he can deliver 10 sinners to her Save-A-Soul Mission in Times Square, how can she resist?

In the meantime, Detroit is avoiding matrimony with the same zeal he evades the cops, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering girlfriend, a hot-box dancer.

In the hands of director Myra Kaelin, the SVCT cast brings a ton of enthusiasm to the show, with Michael Kaelin an earnest-yet-rowdy Nathan Detroit, Joe Hartwell a convincing Sky Masterson, Megan Griffin a convincingly prudish missionary Sarah Brown, and Hilary Little as cute as a button as Miss Adelaide.

Little has the most significant musical theater background of the four, with time spent in the cast of Beach Blanket Babylon, and it shows in her vocal style, with an endearing squeak at the front end of phrases in such songs as “Bushel and a Peck” and the sexy “Take Back Your Mink.”
Michael Kaelin’s Nathan Detroit is all physical energy and over-the-top emoting, and he rocks the crazy window-pane check suits from costume designer Michelle Griffin.

Joe Hartwell hides his Tennessee accent well in his delivery as Sky Masterson, and he also gets the lion’s share of the male-based songs, including “My Time of Day,” and the iconic “Luck Be a Lady.” His voice meshes nicely with Griffin’s on their duets  “I’ll Know” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”

Griffin’s somewhat nasal soprano tends to veer a bit closer to the comedic than the romantic, but she shares good chemistry both with Hartwell and with Little on “Marry the Man Today.”

Music director Carol Harris leads a brass-heavy 12-piece live orchestra, always a nice addition to a musical theater production. Choreographers Jyovonne Montosa and Nicole Tung keep a large cast moving in inventive ways.

A special shout-out to set designer Paul “Skip” Sharp III for a creative rotating cube on the stage, which changes easily from Manhattan street scenes to Miss Adelaide’s Hot Box to sewers deep beneath the streets (where sound designer Joyce Bedard adds the nice touch of echoes to the crapshooters’ voices).
South Valley Civic Theatre presents ‘Guys and Dolls’ through July 7 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Visit, svct.org.

Susan Rife
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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.